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Bennett was one of area's first stars

This is the ninth in a Saturday series looking at the Class of 2011, scheduled for induction Nov. 9 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

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For Lewis "Deerfoot" Bennett, Buffalo was home when his career began and when it reached its finish line. In between he became one of the best distance runners in the 19th century, carving out a career worthy of induction next month into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

Bennett is one of four who will be enshrined posthumously in the Pride of Western New York category. The Pride recognizes sports figures from the distant past. Bennett is joined by former Bills fullback Cookie Gilchrist, inventor of volleyball William Morgan and one of the founding fathers of the West Side Rowing Club, Michael Broderick.

The Pride Committee went way back in its archive to discover Bennett. Born in 1830, Bennett was a Seneca Indian from the Cattaraugus Reservation, who dominated long-distance racing for a generation.

He won his first race in 1856 at the Erie County Fair, running five miles in 25 minutes to earn a purse of $50. He ran most of his races shirtless, wearing a feather apron around his waist and a band with one eagle feather around his head.

His reputation spread beyond Western New York, and he raced frequently at fairs all over the Northeast. An English sports promoter heard of Bennett and booked him on a 20-month European tour, where he went from mysterious runner, to entertainer, to world record holder. The intense competition against the best British and Irish runners helped him improve dramatically. With the aid of pace makers, he set world records of 10 miles in 51:26 and 12 miles in 1:02:02.

He died in 1896 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

*Cookie Gilchrist: Although his football career in Buffalo was just three seasons (1962-1964, 44 games), it was enough time for him to become an iconic sports figure in Buffalo and one of the American Football League's first marquee players.

A punishing 6-foot-3, 250 pound larger-than-life character, Gilchrist joined Buffalo at age 27 after a six-year career in the Canadian Football League. His impact at fullback was immediate as he became the AFL's first 1,000-yard rusher and led the league with 13 touchdowns.

His most notable game came in 1963 in a Bills' victory over the N.Y. Jets when he set a pro football record with 243 yards rushing and became only the fourth pro player to score five touchdowns in a game.

Retired Buffalo News sports editor Larry Felser and late Bills quarterback Jack Kemp both called Gilchrist the best all-around football player they ever saw.

In 1964, he and Kemp led coach Lou Saban's squad to an early 9-0 record and went on to defeat the defending champion San Diego Chargers, 20-7, in the AFL Championship game played in Buffalo.

Gilchrist died in January at age 75 in Pittsburgh after a lengthy battle with cancer.

*William Morgan: Born in Lockport in 1870, Morgan would go down in history as the inventor of volleyball.

After graduating from Springfield College (Mass.) in 1892, Morgan landed a job as Director of Physical Education at a YMCA in Holyoke, Mass. in 1895. Looking for an activity with less contact than the new sport of basketball, Morgan invented a sport he named Mintonette, later re-named volleyball. The sport's popularity rapidly grew.

He was later inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1985. Prior to his death in 1942, Morgan said he was "content in the knowledge that the game brought a richer life to millions of people throughout the world."

*Michael Broderick: The success of the West Side Rowing Club traces back to one man. Broderick, an Irish immigrant, is considered the founding father after establishing the club in 1912.

It was the spring of 1912 that Broderick gathered with some friends on the docks at the Buffalo end of the Erie Barge Canal. They spent the afternoon unloading a barge full of dilapidated equipment. It was the birth of the WSRC. Membership dues were $1 per year.

Broderick led the club through the Great Depression and two world wars. His many contributions including the adoption of school boy rowing in 1921. He used his recognition as President of WSRC to manage the United States Rowing Team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He served as the club's president until his death in 1951 at age 73.

He was only the second American to receive life membership in the Canadian Rowing Association and the Broderick Plate is the most prestigious annual award distributed by WSRC. He was enshrined in the national Rowing Hall of Fame in 1983.

The 21st annual Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame dinner will be held at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Nov. 9. For dinner tickets, call 888-2977 or go to www.gbshof.com.

email: mmonnin@buffnews.com